S.D. Court Rejects Company's Pot Claim


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A man injured while working for a Sioux Falls landscaping company can get workers' compensation benefits because the company failed to show the accident was caused by his off-duty use of marijuana, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled Thursday.

The high court unanimously upheld the state Labor Department's decision to allow workers' compensation insurance to pay benefits for Thomas VanSteenwyk, who was hurt while working for Baumgartner Trees and Landscaping.

Baumgartner had argued that VanSteenwyk should not get workers' compensation benefits because his use of marijuana the night before the accident was a substantial factor in causing his injuries.

But the Supreme Court agreed with the Labor Department's ruling that Baumgartner's expert witnesses failed to prove that marijuana was a cause of the April 30, 2004, mishap.

VanSteenwyk's leg was injured when he was attempting to connect the bucket to a skid-steer loader. His leg was caught between the cab and a hydraulic arm as he stood to kick a locking lever that would not engage, according to court records.

VanSteenwyk acknowledged that he had smoked marijuana daily for 15-20 years before the accident. He never smoked marijuana in the morning or at work, but he routinely used pot in the evening after work, according to testimony in the case.

The evening before the accident, VanSteenwyk went to his supervisor's home to smoke marijuana after work, just as the two had done for the past year. VanSteenwyk said he then went to his home in Canistota, spent the evening with his family, and smoked another joint before going to bed around midnight.

The next day about 11:30 a.m., VanSteenwyk removed the fork attachment from the front of the loader and tried to replace it with a bucket. The bucket was difficult to attach because it had been damaged, so company owner Brian Baumgartner had instructed employees operating the skid loader to stand up and kick a lever to lock the bucket in place on the hydraulic arm, according to court records.

When VanSteenwyk stood to kick the locking lever with his right leg, his left foot accidentally hit a pedal that lowered the hydraulic arm. He required medical care because his right leg was caught between the cab and the hydraulic arm.

A hospital test revealed marijuana in VanSteenwyk's body.

Baumgartner had not instructed employees to use locking pins that prevented the hydraulic arm from lowering during the changing of attachments, and Baumgartner did not use the pins himself, according to court documents. A safety feature that shut down the hydraulic system when the seat belt was unbuckled also had been altered.

Baumgartner contended that VanSteenwyk should not be covered by workers' compensation insurance because the injury was caused by his impairment from marijuana use.

At a Labor Department hearing, an expert for Baumgartner testified that the high level of drug in VanSteenwyk's body meant he was impaired at the time of the accident. But the expert also said he could not say that the marijuana use caused the accident.

None of Baumgartner's expert witnesses could offer an opinion on what role, if any, VanSteenwyk's marijuana use played in the accident, the Supreme Court said.

State law provides that workers' compensation benefits are not allowed for any injury or death due to the worker's willful misconduct, which can include illegal drug use, the high court said.

However, workers' compensation benefits can be denied only if an employer shows that a worker's willful misconduct caused an injury, the Supreme Court said. The justices upheld the Labor Department's ruling that Baumgartner failed to prove that VanSteenwyk's marijuana use caused the accident.

Newshawk: CoZmO - 420Magazine.com
Source: The Houston Chronicle
Copyright: 2007 The Associated Press
Website: Chron.com - Houston Chronicle

Smokin Moose

Fallen Cannabis Warrior
How the hell can they assume impairment based on levels of THC in your body. I am unaware of any definitive legal basis for making such an outrageous claim.
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